Over the course of more than 35 years, Meeker Music has survived constant fluctuations in fashion by embracing a little bit of everything.
Enter the downtown store and you'll see hundreds of bins filled with songbooks that range from Snell piano etudes to Lady Gaga's greatest hits. The walls are lined with electric guitars, ukuleles and other string-driven things, as well as a selection of the band instruments the store rents to kids from every school district in Colorado Springs.
For obvious reasons, the month of August and the first weeks of September are the peak period for students coming in to rent their first instruments. "During the high rental period, we did 25 rentals in one day, just in one store," says Lisa Holman, who's worked retail and taught lessons at Meeker for the last decade. "This year, clarinets and baritones are really popular."
While Meeker doesn't maintain warehouses full of sousaphones and other orchestral essentials, its staff can quickly order whatever instruments turn out to be in demand at any particular time. And while band instruments are generally a less volatile market than, say, music editing software, Holman says there are still degrees of unpredictability.
A number of schools, for instance, abandoned their marching bands, although some are coming back. "It will go with the flow of the economy," she explains. "But I know this town is pretty strong on marching bands. Air Academy High School is one of the top ones in the state."
In addition to rentals and purchases, the family-owned and -operated store also handles repairs, prints copyright-approved sheet music on demand, and offers lessons in piano, woodwinds, guitars and violins.
"The only area I don't have a teacher for on staff is bass," says Holman. And that, one suspects, is only a matter of time. — BF
Like bumping up a carat, Luisa Graff Jewelers has upgraded to a newer, larger space on North Nevada Avenue. Described on the store's very Tiffany & Co.-looking website as "Venice meets Las Vegas," it's got a "substantially larger" showroom, says the owner. But the five-time Best Of winner still sticks to the basics: educating customers and earning trust. Certified gemologist Graff and her employees are training continually to keep up with the ongoing changes of their industry. And in a tough economy, it's helpful that prices for her jewelry start below $100 (even if they top out around $70,000, for those not affected). "We want to have something for everybody," Graff says, "and celebrate all occasions." — EA
I grew up in thrift stores. From toys to clothes to furniture to housewares, I learned the secondhand-shopping way long before my school days. So it's with fondness that I report that, on the strength of a wide selection that grows with its customers, Arc has won our Thrift Store category six years running. And that, in the new Thrift Store for Infants and Children category, the Arc wins, too. Besides the half-price Saturdays, upsides to shopping at the Arc include its recycling and charitable aspects. And even in the dicey land of secondhand men's clothes, well, the ARC does its best. — EA
The Leechpit has taken this category six years in a row, and this time it comes on the heels of a big move. In February, owners Adam and Heather Leech packed up the 'Pit and headed a little north and west, to the former Toons building. Adam says the new Nevada Avenue location gives them a lot more exposure, particularly to the Colorado College crowd, and the new digs are almost double the size of the previous building — something easy to notice by the amount of overstuffed clothes racks, as well as the larger vinyl collection and number of shoppers around you. Often, Adam says, they have "more people than could even fit" in the old store. — KA
It's comforting to know that even with the Dawn of Kindle seemingly bringing about the book Armageddon, people still want to own an actual book. "There's still a tremendous amount of people who appreciate the look and feel of books, who want to hold it in their hands and not be reading from a screen," says Poor Richard's manager Marie Poole. And, hey, if books do go down, at least it'll be another century or so before computers supplement great food, good wine, a relaxing atmosphere and all sorts of fascinating trinkets. — SB
'Treasures' abound in this picker's paradise. Manager Shirley Hernandez remembers a man who came in last year and bought "a picture." He later came back to share some news with the store's employees: His "picture" had turned out to be an unsigned Picasso worth a bundle. (Hey, that's his story ...) With 145 vendor booths and prices ranging from $500 on the high end (for an antique trunk) to 25 cents (for a toy), the store aims to have something for everyone. There's a café area with free tea and coffee, and a customer request book for shoppers who are looking for something specific. Among the collectibles, clothing and kitsch, look for "mantiques": Here you'll find a booth for fellas only, stuffed with swords, tools and beer paraphernalia. — LJ
Asked to describe the Terra Verde woman, manager Amy Christensen says she's "18 to 80" and inspired by "Colorado eclectic style." The store's buyers not only bounce between New York and Los Angeles to find inventory, but also work directly with customers to keep a finger on the pulse of the community. While Terra Verde touches on forward-thinking trends, Christensen says the goal is for a woman to have classic pieces that make her feel and look beautiful. And it doesn't hurt to have a partner who will buy her such a piece when it's time for a thoughtful, over-the-top gift. — MMR
'The Crazy Lady Sale'
OK, I cringe every time a friend refers to the massive women's fashion sale that pops up around town on an irregular basis as the "crazy lady" sale. But from its beginnings four years ago in a strip-mall storefront off Eighth Street to its latest digs last winter on Tejon, the rumor has persisted, that the brand-new, still-tagged clothing and accessories available for purchase at rock-bottom prices come from a shopping-obsessed local woman. If it's true her therapist told her to sell her stuff and give the money to charity as part of her "recovery" way back when, we all know by now it's not working. Of course, this event, managed by local estate sale specialists Rachel T. Wescott & Assoc., Inc., is a damn good opportunity to acquire designer pieces many of us couldn't even touch in a store. Is it so very wrong, if she does exist, to hope the woman never cures her addiction? — KA
Asian Pacific Market earned three times more votes than any other ethnic market this year, and swallowed up the competition for the fourth year in a row. We're not talking turkey; it's duck all the way, whole-roasted and hanging in a deli window. The Asian superstore is the go-to place for local restaurant chefs, but the general public is getting wise to the rare finds and great pricing on meats and produce. Manager Jason Zhou credits the on-site eatery and low prices for inspiring customers to try new things. Don't leave without munching the cha siu bao, fluffy and amazing steamed pork buns. — MMR
Old Colorado City(24th Street and West Colorado Avenue, 574-1283)
Close quarters make for part of the charm of the Old Colorado City farmers market. Each Saturday morning between early June and late October, meandering shoppers, with their dogs and strollers and free samples, cram into a single block of 24th Street. On both sides are vendors, almost 30 in all, calling out their best deals to the crowd. Some come from as far away as the Western Slope to go elbow-to-elbow with the competition. And they're the lucky ones — organizer Frank Schmidt, who's been doing this for a quarter-century, says he and his board members probably turn away about 10 to 15 would-be vendors each year. — KW
It happened one uneventful day. I wandered into one of Manitou Springs' many candy stores, and saw it out of the corner of my eye, a merry pile of red-and-white wrappers. Instantly, I knew I had found them: Twin Bings, two nutty, chocolate mounds with cherry-flavored, nougat-type centers. I'd eaten them only once before, with my childhood friend one hot week in Wyoming, and hadn't been able to find them since. Had I only known sooner to look at Goldminers, which specializes in old-school candies. This 16-year-old business is run by husband-and-wife team Leslie and Manny Vasquez, who bought it from Manny's parents four years ago. Though the nut offerings there have waned, Manny still makes a fine selection of fudge and chocolate candies, with "nontraditional" items like jalapeño peanut brittle and jalapeño fudge. Not the spicy type? There's about 180 other choices, Manny says. — EA
Even in life's most discouraging moments, people turn to Mel Tolbert at Platte Floral. "People buy flowers when the stock market goes down," explains Tolbert, who's owned the 90-year-old community fixture since 1979. "It's a calming thing." The store itself is a wonderland, full of flowers, keepsakes and gifts that reflect Tolbert's commitment to keep pace with changing trends in colors and blossoms. This year, he says young people are going for stargazer lilies, and the latest color trend is in jewel tones, such as vibrant purples. Whether it's picking up flowers on a Friday evening while heading home or ordering a bouquet for an experience Tolbert says might not be fit to print, his customers can count on Platte Floral for the perfect bright spot. — PZ
They're like branches on a family tree, these two Rick's. One branch reached into trees and shrubs, the other into annuals and perennials. Both are rooted in a business that started in the mid-1950s and share a west-side block. At the nursery, owner Chuck Reed and his family love what they do. "You get to help people make their little corner of the world what they want, a place to relax and enjoy," he says. A stone's throw away, Garden Center manager Steve Hazlip has worked for owners Mike and Gail Estes for seven years. "Every day is different — you never know what to expect," he says. They're different businesses today, but the message is the same: Keep watering those yards. — RVP
Mountain Chalet never fails to win top honors as your favorite local outdoor outfitter. The store turned 43 this year; owner Dan Foster began working there in 1980 and bought it in 1985. When asked how it's survived against bigger chains and the Internet gear giants, he says, "We're small, but we have sharp little elbows, and we know how to swing them around." (Not at customers, of course.) Foster notes the latest trend that many wish would end is for "toed footware," such as Vibram's FiveFingers (which he was wearing as we spoke by phone). He says he's always liked to "bring in the weird stuff" to balance out the serious sports gear for hardcore folks. Whether you're a weekend warrior or dainty-trail dog-walker, this store's for you. — MS
Sure, "thoughtful" can mean showing consideration for the gift recipient. But it's also being conscious about how your purchases impact the people who made those gifts. Sarah Ray and Donavan Kennedy founded Yobel Market in 2008 to support Third World artisans and to educate consumers, and they've been pleasantly surprised by the response. "We were so proud of the Colorado Springs community for rising up and supporting fair and equitable trade with both their Christmas and personal purchases last year," they say via e-mail from Juarez, Mexico. They're working with female entrepreneurs there and will soon stock their Christmas ornaments, baby clothing and scarves. For out-of-the-box gifts, consider buying a goat for a Rwandan village or a brick for a Ugandan school through Yobel's sponsor program. — RVP
Yes, it may be easy to click "Buy Now" on iTunes and watch the newest hot song download, all from the comfort of your bedroom, but then you never get the experience of walking into a record shop, sifting through cases, scanning the track list, and immediately blasting the music in your car, windows down, sunglasses on. Thankfully, Independent Records & Video still provides Colorado Springs with these simple pleasures. Not that the store's employees are unaware of the changing times: "We are doing a lot of new stuff," says the East Bijou Street location manager, Sean Lanam. For instance, helping consumers to bridge the gap between analog and digital. "Most artists, if they release it on vinyl," Lanam notes, "it comes with a little download card." — EC
John Crandall knows everything there is to know about bikes and can fix your flat tire in a jiffy, but what really makes Old Town stand out is his attention to the customers and his genuine concern for their satisfaction. "We have everything from homeless people to rich professionals, so it's sometimes a challenge to deal with that wide a variety of people, and do it respectfully and in a way that's appropriate," says the Old Town owner. But he puts in the effort to support the full spectrum, and makes sure everyone's well-cared-for. One of the greatest rewards for his efforts: "I really appreciate the support we get from the community." — CF
Perennial favorite for all things powder-related, the Ski Shop offers 50 different models of skis and 25 snowboard styles. This year, "rockered" gear has really taken off, says manager and founding-family member Scott Uhl. Rockering of skis and snowboards enables the tips and tails to flare up a bit, allowing skiers and riders to float better on powder and turn more easily, he says. "For snowboarders, rockering allows you to be more playful; do more tricks at an earlier skill level." The other new and exciting gear for snow-sports lovers: helmets replete with audio-kit ear pads. Uhl himself is a fan: "I work with my brother all the time, so when we go skiing I like to listen to music to tune him out." — LJ
According to Indy readers, Blindside has been the best place to buy skateboards and snowboards since it opened in 2007. The reason, says owner Jon Easdon, is simple: Blindside cares about what products it sells. "It's got to ride good, and it's got to ride good for the price, and we have to be able to back it," he says. Every board Easdon has in stock has been tested by shop staff. But customers can also test it, before they buy. "We have that opportunity to put those boards under people's feet." — CF
Motorcycles are a big part of Springs culture. While cruisers tend to sell the best in general, the best-selling bike at Apex Sports is the Honda Goldwing, which is a touring bike. "We're a family-oriented business, and all of us have Goldwings, so we tend to promote that," says general manager Mike Stokes, who rides a Goldwing himself because "it's the Cadillac of motorcycles." Stokes and company also recently added Beta motorcycles to their off-roading inventory; though they've been in Italy since 1948, they've only recently landed in America, and Stokes is pretty stoked about that. — CF
With a brand-new location and more space to work with, Sportique Scooters has been able to increase its inventory, not only adding more models of scooters, but also some mopeds to its stock. (In case you don't know, mopeds have pedals, and scooters don't.) At Sportique, it's all good — especially since it's all part of a culture that owner Jarrod Stuhlsatz says is similar to motorcycle culture, but more laid-back. "You don't have to wear leather," he says. Scooter-riders even have their own clubs that have rides and rallies, but "not organized crime — yet," says Stuhlsatz. "We're working on it." — CF
Specializing in retro, mid-century-modern furniture and decor, Domino in Old Colorado City has made quite an impact in its 1½ years. Not only has it sold enough furniture to keep co-owner L.A. Martin busy, it's made a splash on the arts scene as well, with monthly "Domino Effects" solo shows by locals. Yet Martin and her husband are relocating to Chicago and leaving the shop, which just sold to two women who will take over Nov. 1. Martin says she feels they will take good care of the place, down to the artwork. Looking back, Martin says her favorite memory was June's opening reception, which featured Best Artist Liese Chavez. — EA
We all know "Colorado Drives Phil Long." But assuming most Coloradans don't make their car-buying decisions based on the lemming principle, what makes Phil Long Ford the Springs' No. 1 choice, even after 66 years in the business? "Phil started a pretty good thing here a long time ago," says general manager Dan Jonuska. "Ironically enough, Phil was a Navy pilot, and now we're selling a lot of cars to the military. There's been people from Afghanistan and Iraq on their mission overseas, and they'll call and order a vehicle and they can take delivery by the time they get back stateside. They just know us because we're Phil Long and we've been around a long time." — CS
Perennial winners in this category, Heuberger knows its stuff, which is one reason it's long reigned as No. 1 Subaru dealer in the country. More than that, however, the Heuberger folks know their community, and they believe in giving back. With major involvement in charitable endeavors such as the Indy's Give! campaign, and the "Light the Night Walk" for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Heuberger sets the bar high for community involvement. In the end, genuine concern and a sincere wish to make a difference in people's lives make this company a resounding success — and a car dealership we're lucky to have. — BW
Pennywise Patagonia-lovers: Do we have a gem for you. Mountain Equipment Recyclers sells high-quality consignment equipment and gear for fun in the outdoors. So instead of paying full price for that North Face fleece you've always wanted, here's the place to do it at a much better rate. And on top of the crazy deals, Mountain Equipment Recyclers works very hard to help local soldiers by giving 50 percent on the sale of donated gear and 5 percent of consignment gear directly to nonprofits that help local military vets. With everything from ski boots to backpacks to down vests, this spot has just what you need for a socially responsible outdoor adventure. — EC
The full royal treatment is probably at the root of ABBA's second consecutive win. Established more than 30 years ago and owned by Dr. Marcus Meyer, ABBA could probably even make Mr. Magoo's fitting a pleasant experience, with vision testing and special testing for glaucoma and other eye issues, plus contact-fitting and frame selection. The site on Lake Plaza Drive has 1,000 frame options to choose from, says optician Sierra Scott, including "some crazy Lady Gaga" models, and high-end sunglass frames that go for $4,000. "We're always defining the newest and best thing," Scott says. "Our staff is really knowledgeable about our products. It's a complete experience." — PZ
Chain championsCongratulations to these big businesses that locals love:
1685 Briargate Pkwy., #315, 522-4460, apple.com
110 N. Tejon St., 633-8803, savoryspiceshop.com
Multiple locations, kingsoopers.com
Multiple locations, kohls.com
3180 New Center Point, 622-1099; 7635 N. Academy Blvd., 531-9999, wholefoodsmarket.com
Multiple locations, gamestop.com
7639 N. Academy Blvd., 264-8007, dsw.com
3730 N. Citadel Drive, 597-8697, toysrus.com
4010 Tutt Blvd., 313-4860, carmax.com